One giant leap for Webb: Equity finally makes its way into the dorms

Jameson+Dorm+which+has+traditionally+housed+WSC+students+will+open+its+rooms+to+VWS+students+starting+in+the+2021-2022+school+year.

Laura Haushalter

Jameson Dorm which has traditionally housed WSC students will open its rooms to VWS students starting in the 2021-2022 school year.

While students have been away, the Webb campus has been active in more ways than imagined. The administration has been using this time to discuss Webb’s future as the community approaches the centennial celebrations, work on building out the schools’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programing, and, of course, renovate student spaces on campus.  

The Hooper Community Center is the most recently completed renovation project on campus. After its unveiling to the seniorin late April when Mr. Rosenfeld’s dream of becoming a barista came true, Hooper is now also open for student use during specific times of the week based on grade cohort. 

The new, ongoing renovation project, which has been anxiously awaited by members of VWS for years, is the renovation of Appleby Dorm. Previously a WSC dorm, the plan for Appleby is to revert the current double rooms back into singles, renovate the bathrooms, and finally open up the back balcony again.  

One of the conceptual goals is to recreate the indoor-outdoor dorm environment that was typical for all WSC dorms last year. 

“It’s also the idea of creating this dorm that has open access to the outdoors” Dr. Smith said. “[Appleby is] looking over this new land that we own, the views are going to be beautiful.” 

Previously, there had been clear inequities between WSC and VWS dorms. The obvious one was, of course, that VWS students had double rooms, and WSC students had singles. A less obvious, but equally concerning inequity was that VWS dorms were locked and alarmed at night.  

One of the three major recommendations from the 2017-2018 Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation process was to ‘remedy’ the apparent inequities in the dorms. The recommendation spurred the Appleby dorm refurbishment, but even since then it has taken time to generate funding, have the plans approved by the city, and put them in motion. 

“Webb is not doing this because of the accreditation,” said Dr. Theresa Smith, Associate Head of Schools. “This is something that we have known as a challenge. One of the things about institutional change is that it is a process, and it takes time. It was through [the accreditation] process we saw that it was a more urgent matter than we had felt before. 

And because this issue was constantly spotlighted before concrete changes took place, there was a sense among students and dorm heads that nothing was being done.  

Moreover, voicing the inequities between dorms was most often discussed between WSC and VWS dorm councils. So, even though VWS students had emphasized the importance of this issue, the WSC council did not seem to know what to do about it.  

“The dorm councils and Dorm heads would continue to say [WSC students] have singles, and [WSC students] are not alarmed,” said Sarah Lantz, previous VWS Dorm Head and current VWS Dean of Students. Not that they told us to get over it, but they were kind of apathetic to our cause. It was like ‘okay what do you want us to do about it? 

Although this project may have felt like a long fight and call for equity in the dorms, the majority of students and faculty were unaware of the work that was being done in support of this cause.  

“It felt like progress was nohappening, and I needed to keep voicing the student’s voice,” said Mrs. Lantz. “But we weren’t seeing the behind-the-scenes work. It just was taking time. 

ADr. Smith said, even though this institutional change took a while to gain momentum, Webb has been in favor of pursuing equity in the dorms all along. Two years after the recommendation was made by WASC, Webb received a generous gift from Blake Brown ’68 to renovate the Appleby dorm.  

“It was awesome when we got the gift to [renovate] Appleby,” Mrs. Lantz said. “I mean, that was like something I never thought was going to happen.” 

Finally putting this change in motion, Webb community members are thrilled that in addition to the renovation of Appleby, Jameson will also become a VWS dorm, and North Hutch will become a WSC dorm. This swap will bring the number of single and double rooms in each school closer to equal. 

When the announcement about the dorm switch was made on Student News, there was a handful of WSC snapchat stories where students were upset that they were losing their dorm.  

Among them was Dylan Lange (‘22), a WSC dorm prefect. 

“I think the dorm switches were not even,” Dylan said. “I’m sure most guys can agree Jameson was a fantastic dorm that everyone liked. The community was amazing. Everyone participated and had the Jameson spirit. Noho [North Hutch] isn’t really a fair trade. Although it is closer to campus, most guys would prefer not to be next to all the classes. Jameson was really nice since it was close to your classes, but far enough away for there to be a separation.” 

“I do wish the boarders in WSC could at least vote or suggest a dorm they’d like from the girls’ class,” Dylan said. “This news came out of the dark and I don’t recall any input from the WSC boarding guys. I was also supposed to be a Jameson prefect, but that has to change now.” 

The main reason Jameson and North Hutch switched schools was that they were close enough in number of beds that a swap would not interfere with the admissions process into either VWS or WSC.  

VWS students have been very pleased with the switch and are excited to move forward into a more equitable dorm system. 

“I’m happy that Jameson is now a VWS dorm because it’s a great dorm, with its air-conditioning and balcony area, and VWS needs more singles,” said Sharon Xu (‘22), a VWS dorm prefect. “I’m sad Noho [North Hutch] is now a WSC dorm because I really liked it, but I’m glad that the guys are getting more doubles. I think changing the dorms was a good move.”  

Mrs. Lantz also explained that besides leveling out the number of singles and doubles in each school, WSC students are entitled to the experience of having a roommate, the challenges it poses, and the opportunities it provides. Webb wants its WSC students to learn skills like compromise, communication, conflict resolution, and developing healthy schedules for themselves alongside a peer.  

“I think the solution that we have now is a great one because it allows us not only to have a higher number of singles rooms, but also sets up the idea that every student for one year could have a roommate experience,” Dr. Smith said. “This experience is something I feel that the [WSC students] didn’t get to have.” 

Students from both schools are excited about this prospect of being able to share their roommate experiences with one another.  

“I’m glad that the guys will have roommates because I love my roommate and love having a roommate,” Sharon said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to deeply bond with someone and it’s just nice to have some company in the dorms. Having a roommate to watch TV with or talk to or goof off with just makes living in a dorm more enjoyable.” 

“I think it’s a nice option for some guys to have roommates,” Dylan said. “I think all freshman guys should start with roommates in Noho [North Hutch]. This way they get to know their freshman classmates, like what Holt and Kirkhill were used for.” 

Even though the feelings regarding this switch are mixed, overall, students are glad that progress is being made to address dorm inequalities. 

“I totally support the equitable dorm situations,” Dylan said. “Ideally, it would be nice to also have a coed dorm, but I think that’s far away.”  

“Mr. Duque and I, at some point, would love to have an all-gender dorm or hallway… but we’re not sure where to put it yet, and how to be inclusive of all students at the same time,” Mrs. Lantz said. 

Despite all the dorm swaps and renovations that are going on, WSC students will now have a disparity to deal with: air conditioning. Three out of the four VWS dorms will have air conditioning, while only one WSC dorm will – North Hutch. According to Mrs. Lantz, the justification for this remaining inequity is that VWS had dealt with worse inequity for far longer, and that the air conditioning disparity is only a temporary one. There are already plans in place to install air conditioning in all the dorms; it will just have to wait until after next year. Institutional change, after all, does take time.  

Finally, although VWS students are excited about these big steps, many are still weary of living in a classically Webb outdoor dorm, like JamesonFor instance, students are not accustomed to have to walk outdoors in order to reach the bathrooms.  

“I would pick Jameson but the only thing stopping me are those outdoor showers,” Sharon said.